AN ALGERIAN MOVIE REVIEW
AN ALGERIAN MOVIE REVIEW
Prior to the Internet Age, when I needed to learn about conditions and developments in the Arab world, I read newspapers published in Beirut, Lebanon. As complete freedom of expression was not available, Arabic-language journals were published in the European cities. For example, Al-Mostakbal, a weekly news magazine came from Paris, France; another weekly, Al-Hawadeth, was published in London. The BBC, in addition to its shortwave broadcasts in Arabic, produced a monthly magazine, Huna London, (This is London)
While the following Review is dated, as it appeared around three decades ago, I find it quite relevant to the conditions of women in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
A movie produced by Muhammad Choueikh, an Algerian, and reviewed by Faysal Qasem in “HUNA LONDON,” was shown at the thirty-third London Film Festival. It attracted the attention of the reviewer who naturally was writing for his Arabic-speaking audience. Said audience being a cross-section of the entire Arab world. Not many Westerners will go to an Algerian movie, but “Al-Qala’a” (the Citadel) was heavy with content and social message, and worth passing on to all who are interested in learning about women’s life in Islam.
What is so important about this movie? Well, the producer has endeavored to give his audience a microcosm of present-day Muslim culture and seek some changes in his own society.
Mr. Qasem quotes Mr. Choueikh: “As I was producing the film, I thought about my three daughters. I really fear for them as they grow up to become wives in the Algerian society. They could so easily be exploited and maltreated.”
So, what is the story which projects the message? The setting is a typical Algerian village. The producer tries to make several points, but the main one is that polygamy is no solution for lust. The husband in Al-Qala’a is a strong, authoritarian figure. His name is Sidi. He has married three wives; his children are so numerous they could form two soccer teams or more (12 on a team). And still he is to be seen chasing after a young married woman in the village. Hypocrisy takes many forms.
A central figure in this story of village life is a young man named Qaddour who has been adopted into this large family, but for some reason has become the brunt of practical jokes and worse. Thus, you have this threat of cruelty. Unfortunately, there are people who seem to attract bullying. And always you have the jokers who take advantage of such people. It seems that Qaddour is an excessively romantic young man who is perpetually flirting with the young women of the village. He even goes so far as to consult a magician to have better success. Considering his own behavior, it is no doubt comical to see Sidi getting exasperated with the young man. He treats him like an animal–tethering him to one of the walls of the house. Finally, he hits on a scheme to teach this Qaddour a lesson he will not forget. He decrees that the young man must be married before sunset.
Then follows what probably is a comedic aspect of the film, but it is one that ends in tragedy. The wedding proceeds with the bride totally invisible, covered from head to toe. The married couple are left to themselves, and the traditional inquisitive questions are thrown at them. But Qaddour can’t get his new bride to utter one word, or to talk to him. Finally, he discovers he has been tricked and that he is married to a mannequin from a store window! In desperation, he flees to the top of a nearby mountain and leaps to his death, after first throwing the mannequin over the cliff!
Muhammad Choueikh, the producer of this film has painted a picture of a society built on persecution, repression, hypocrisy and disdain for women. They are treated as toys. Every time Sidi’s wives complain about the tyranny and authoritarianism of their husband, they are quoted verses from the Qur’an and sayings from the Hadith (the Traditions), to silence them!
It is not enough that the movie is a shocking protest for the mistreatment of women in the Muslim culture, but it must bring in many sub-points, not least of which is the hypocrisy of men who can be so cruel and unfaithful, and yet they assume a prominent position in the religious life of their community. Sidi becomes more and more religious, and eventually you see him preaching in the mosque, and talking about ethical themes and virtue!
Choueikh has given the Arab world a film with a social conscience. He wants to help Algerian women who are trapped in situations which seem insurmountable. In the form of drama, tragedy and comedy mixed together, you see a typical village, and view of life which needs to be changed.
Probably the most encouraging thing about seeing this article in a popular magazine, is to realize that this is a new kind of radicalism in Islam. Things are being discussed critically which have gone unmentioned for centuries. The plight of women in the Arab world is becoming a “cause.” There are increasing signs that their emancipation is in sight.